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Brown Signs California Bill For Free Textbooks

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the all-the-knowledge,-none-of-the-calories dept.

Education 201

bcrowell writes "California Governor Jerry Brown has signed SB 1052 and 1053, authored by state senator Darrell Steinberg, to create free textbooks for 50 core lower-division college courses. SB 1052 creates a California Open Education Resources Council, made up of faculty from the UC, Cal State, and community college systems. The council is supposed to pick 50 core courses. They are then to establish a 'competitive request-for-proposal process in which faculty members, publishers, and other interested parties would apply for funds to produce, in 2013, 50 high-quality, affordable, digital open source textbooks and related materials, meeting specified requirements.' The bill doesn't become operative unless the legislature funds it — a questionable process in California's current political situation. The books could be either newly produced (which seems unlikely, given the 1-year time frame stated) or existing ones that the state would buy or have free access to. Unlike former Gov. Schwarzenegger's failed K-12 free textbook program, this one specifically defines what it means by 'open source,' rather than using the term as a feel-good phrase; books have to be under a CC-BY (or CC-BY-SA?) license, in XML format. They're supposed to be modularized and conform to state and W3C accessibility guidelines. Faculty would not be required to use the free books."

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So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494355)

Is this actually going to do anything to hurt the textbook racket?

Re:So... (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 2 years ago | (#41494625)

Not even a blip. Its 'optional' to use them. Publishers and professors will continue the scam they are running for the foreseeable future.

Re:So... (1)

kilodelta (843627) | about 2 years ago | (#41494765)

I'm not so sure about that. If they can actually produce a QUALITY textbook there should be no reason to use 3rd party books at all.

Re:So... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494845)

What 3rd party? Half the time, the professor wrote the book in the first place, the other half the publisher provides kickbacks.

Craigslist for textbooks? (1)

teknx (2547472) | about 2 years ago | (#41494701)

If there was a site where students could post textbooks for trade locally by city or campus, they could at least put a hurting on the school store buyback racket.

Re:Craigslist for textbooks? (3, Informative)

suutar (1860506) | about 2 years ago | (#41494973)

unless the prof requires the new edition, that switches the order of chapters 9 and 10, makes minor changes in the constants in the word problems throughout the book so the answers are different, and adds 10 more bucks to the price over last year's edition.

Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494365)

Unless it's coming out of his pocket, it's probably coming out of ours.

  Free indeed...

Re:Really? (5, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#41494521)

It will be a one-time cost for writing or converting the books, and a small yearly cost of updating them, instead of a yearly high cost for buying them from Texas. It is going to save quite a lot of money, but I'm sure the Book Mafia will successfully lobby this out of existence.

Re:Really? (3, Insightful)

maxdread (1769548) | about 2 years ago | (#41494783)

They don't even need to lobby it, most professors simply won't switch to them for any of their classes. Publishers offer far too many incentives that make the professors job easier while also helping to tie them down to that publisher.

Re:Really? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41495495)

It will be a one-time cost to the taxpayers of California for writing or converting the books, and a small yearly cost to the taxpayers of California for updating them, instead of a yearly high cost to the person using the books for buying them from Texas. It is going to save the person actually using the books quite a lot of money, but will shift much of that saving onto the California taxpayers.

FTFY.

..and... (4, Informative)

raydobbs (99133) | about 2 years ago | (#41494387)

"Faculty would not be required to use the free books"

With this one phrase, the entire idea is rendered useless. Why bother with free textbooks for college level classes if no college will offer classes that use them for coursework? The state will pay for the development, sure... like California can really pay for anything else...

Re:..and... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494491)

I'm sure lots of community colleges will love to use them, especially since the license allows them to tailor it for their own classes. That will likely translate into the textbooks used at larger schools, since faculty at a big Uni will sometimes moonlight at a community college. Also, the students can download the books for free, which makes it a lot more portable, and cheaper for the students.

All we need now is an inexpensive printing press so they can be produced on-demand for students that want a paper version

Re:..and... (1)

Kenja (541830) | about 2 years ago | (#41494771)

From my experience, the community colleges are the ones that require the student to use the book the teacher wrote and self publishes.

Re:..and... (1)

Githaron (2462596) | about 2 years ago | (#41494811)

I have heard about on-demand book printing kiosks that print and bind books for you.

Re:..and... (2)

maxdread (1769548) | about 2 years ago | (#41494829)

Only if someone is going to step up to the plate and start doing automated testing software based on these books as well. Last couple classes I took required that you take the tests/quizes on the publishers website (which btw if you bought a used book, you get to spend $40 for access) since it freed up the teacher from having to go over any of the work.

Re:..and... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494543)

Okay, so first off, you're saying the government should ban all college textbooks except the ones they write? No potential issues spring to mind?

And second, why WOULDN'T professors want to use the free texts? Believe it or not they actually don't get kickbacks for choosing a particular book (I say this as a college instructor who chooses textbooks regularly). Do you think they're making kids pay $200 out of spite? No, they're doing it because you need a textbook if you're going to teach something like Intro Calculus, and the big textbook publishers make new editions every year with just enough changes so the answers keys only work for a particular edition, so you either make the whole class buy the newest edition or make the whole class buy an OLD edition by scraping around bookstores and AbeBooks.

Re:..and... (1)

Githaron (2462596) | about 2 years ago | (#41494831)

Professors might want to use the free books but the colleges/universities might not. They can't get a cut from the bookstore if the bookstore doesn't sell any books.

Re:..and... (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41494977)

Professors might want to use the free books but the colleges/universities might not. They can't get a cut from the bookstore if the bookstore doesn't sell any books.

Open source -- which, not "free" in the sense of free-of-charge -- books don't stop the bookstore from selling printed copies, or even from doing so at a profit.

Re:..and... (1)

bcrowell (177657) | about 2 years ago | (#41495471)

Professors might want to use the free books but the colleges/universities might not. They can't get a cut from the bookstore if the bookstore doesn't sell any books.

College administrators don't make decisions on what textbook to adopt. Professors do.

Re:..and... (1)

maxdread (1769548) | about 2 years ago | (#41494857)

While they may not offer financial incentives, they offer numerous tools that automate/simply the job of a professor. The last business class I took required practically zero effort on the part of the professor. Without a similar system in place for these free editions, professors are going to be far less likely to make the switch.

Re:..and... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494611)

It's a dead in the water waste of time to prop up the Dems on election season if you ask me. I went to Cal State and a community college; and I can tell yo that all the books we used are either written by one of the professors, or one of the professor's thesis adviser or friend. I heard the line "let em email the author about that" a lot.

Re:..and... (4, Informative)

bcrowell (177657) | about 2 years ago | (#41494981)

With this one phrase, the entire idea is rendered useless. Why bother with free textbooks for college level classes if no college will offer classes that use them for coursework?

I think this is a little too pessimistic. A lot of free books already exist, and a lot of faculty are already using them. See my sig for a catalog that includes several hundred examples. The books that are actively in use for instruction tend to highly "top-heavy," i.e., there's a ton of free graduate texts, not as many college ones, few high school ones, and almost no K-8 books.

The teacher's privilege of choosing what book to use is an important part of academic freedom in higher education. The lack of choice by teachers is part of what makes K-12 textbooks suck so much. K-12 books are written by a committee and sold to a commitee, based on criteria such as whether they show pictures of disabled kids doing math.

My own experience as the author of some free physics textbooks is that teachers' ability to choose the book they want is a huge positive factor in getting people to use my books. I currently have about 30-40 college adoptions and about 30-40 high school adoptions. (There's no way for me to know exact numbers, because the books are free.) Of those high school adoptions, nearly all are from private schools (mostly Catholic schools). The reason isn't hard to guess. K-12 textbook selection in public schools is highly political and bureaucratic. A high school physics teacher at a public school can't simply choose whatever book he wants.

why does free have to be funded? (2)

magarity (164372) | about 2 years ago | (#41494411)

It doesn't become active until the legislature funds it? How free is that? Perhaps some experts on the subjects in question could volunteer time to write intro level textbooks (with the idea of writing advanced books for sale)? That would be "free". Seriously, the use of the word free is much abused lately, much like spending cuts have long since meant less increases in spending.

Re:why does free have to be funded? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494485)

> Perhaps some experts on the subjects in question could volunteer time to write intro level textbooks

It takes a lot of time to write a good textbook. Why would I, as an expert who's time is in demand, do it for free?

Re:why does free have to be funded? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494571)

It takes a lot of time to write a good textbook. Why would I, as an expert who's time is in demand, do it for free?

One would think that an expert would know the difference between who's and whose.

Bring on the non-experts, I say.

 

Re:why does free have to be funded? (2)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 2 years ago | (#41495535)

It takes a lot of time to write a good textbook. Why would I, as an expert who's time is in demand, do it for free?

One would think that an expert would know the difference between who's and whose.

Bring on the non-experts, I say.

 

Obviously AC1 is not an academic expert. "Free" is what TA's and grad students are for.

A lot of professors accumulate a collection of teaching notes over their careers. Heck, I had a High School Physics teacher who did that. Handed them out with copyright notices on them.

Getting a collection of loose notes assembled into an actual usable textbook is not trivial, but one place you should expect to be able to find people with that kind of talent is an institution of higher learning. In some ways, it's better than a publishing house, when esoteric subject matter is involved.

Re:why does free have to be funded? (1)

magarity (164372) | about 2 years ago | (#41494793)

Tell it to the people running Khan Academy.

Re:why does free have to be funded? (2)

Githaron (2462596) | about 2 years ago | (#41494859)

One of my professors took a sabbatical to write an electronics book for one of his classes. He released it under the Creative Commons. I am sure he is not the only professional out there willing to write free books.

Re:why does free have to be funded? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41495023)

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

I'm not saying that give everything away. But when you've secured enough (a fairly subjective term, I concur), give back.

Re:why does free have to be funded? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494563)

It's free to the end-user, not free to create.

Why? Because you're not going to get professional-level copy and proofing for free. Would YOU write and revise 1500 high-level calculus homework questions with painstaking precision just out of a sense of public-mindedness?

Why rewrite homework problems? (1)

checho4 (1149601) | about 2 years ago | (#41494743)

Why rewrite and re-revise 1500 high-level calculus homework questions when thousands of these have already been published over and over and over and over? There's an easy solution: use old ones.

Re:Why rewrite homework problems? (2)

Githaron (2462596) | about 2 years ago | (#41494871)

Of simply have a computer randomly generate them with the answers included..

Re:Why rewrite homework problems? (2)

skelly33 (891182) | about 2 years ago | (#41495099)

There is nothing random about the problems selected in the books. They are carefully arranged to ensure that you see the various permutations that are possible to encounter. If it were as easy as randomly generating book material, it would have been done long ago. Furthermore, calculus, I think, would not be one of 50 "core" subjects to be covered.

Re:why does free have to be funded? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41495129)

It's free to the end-user, not free to create.

Why? Because you're not going to get professional-level copy and proofing for free.

And, even if you were, you probably wouldn't be able to verify that the books "conform to the most
current, ratified standards under Section 508 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. Sec. 794d), as amended, and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines adopted by the
World Wide Web Consortium for accessibility" without spending some money. Which the law at issue requires of the open source (not free) text books that it authorizes the State to acquire.

Re:why does free have to be funded? (2)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41494893)

why does free have to be funded?

Because "free" in the sense means "libre", not "gratis".

Actually, the new law doesn't say "free" at all, it says "open source" in general, and specifies the exact requirement as that the material be licensed under:

a creative commons attribution license that allows others to use, distribute, and create derivative works based upon the digital material while still allowing the authors or creators to receive credit for their efforts.

(Cal.Ed.Code, Sec. 66409(f)(1), as added by SB 1052.)

How free is that?

Exactly as "free" as is mandated by the required licensing conditions.

Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494415)

Where does California get all this money from, especially being almost $400B in debt.

Re:Seriously? (1, Informative)

AK Marc (707885) | about 2 years ago | (#41494557)

From the savings of lower education costs.

Re:Seriously? (0)

Mashiki (184564) | about 2 years ago | (#41494905)

From the savings of lower education costs.

Robbing peter to pay paul does not result in lower education costs.

Re:Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494585)

They must have some money trees hidden somewhere -- didn't LA just approve the construction of a multi-billion dollar sport stadium this week?

The amount of delusion amongst the ruling class in California is staggering.

Re:Seriously? (4, Interesting)

Cinder6 (894572) | about 2 years ago | (#41494589)

At least it should be cheaper and available sooner than the no-longer-bullet train we're supposedly getting in the next 30 years. Aw, who am I kidding?

Anyway, I'm currently attending a California city college, and I've attended state university before. In my experience, many professors (especially at the city college level, where average incomes are lower) are concerned about textbook prices. They put them in the library reserve for students to use, they allow you to use previous editions, and they'll even look for cheaper alternatives. My current professors also claim they do not receive commission for textbook sales, and that the school essentially breaks even on textbook sales once you consider the costs of running the bookstore.

In the past, many of my computer science courses had complimentary eBooks available online. This year, two of my classes have eBook versions available via CourseSmart which, while cheaper than physical textbooks, can't be used on dedicated eReaders (currently computer, iOS, and Android, with Android devices being limited somehow). They also have the issue of essentially being rentals instead of outright purchases--but still, it's better than nothing.

Finally, two professors I had a while back decided that the existing course books were too expensive, so they wrote their own books and sold them for $10 and $30. Yeah, they obviously get a commission there, but that's better than paying $150.

I imagine there are other schools that are much worse than my personal experiences, but it isn't all bad.

Re:Seriously? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 2 years ago | (#41494649)

The next generation.

Re:Seriously? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41495013)

Where does California get all this money from, especially being almost $400B in debt.

Actually, over $617 billion as of August. And the same place the U.S. government gets money from, despite being $16 trillion dollars in debt.

Re:Seriously? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41495513)

So what you're saying is California gets it's money from California, the same place the US government gets it.

They should do studies on 200$ laptops (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about 2 years ago | (#41494445)

200$ laptops even with replacements over the years are cheaper than 10,000$ in books for k-12.

They should do studies with some kids to see if they learn as good on a computer as a book.

Once this data is compiled, throw in some educational aps too, and you're probably beating what you can get on just books alone.

Studying from a laptop? (2)

teknx (2547472) | about 2 years ago | (#41494645)

Maybe I'm old school, but I'd rather study from a textbook than a screen. Maybe someone could invent a portable device where I can read books where the text resembles electronic ink? And there can be an electronic marketplace where you can buy these books! Hopefully this post can kindle a few ideas..

Re:Studying from a laptop? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494789)

Shut up, fucktard. Was this even suppose to be amusing or are you just dizzy from a lack of oxygen after having big dicks in your mouth for so long?

Re:Studying from a laptop? (3, Funny)

maxdread (1769548) | about 2 years ago | (#41494885)

That's a bit of a far fetched idea. I've searched the earth far and wide, in every Nook and cranny, I've even searched deep in the Amazon and have yet to find anything similar to that which you desire.

Noble ambition .. but (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 2 years ago | (#41494477)

I have a feeling the committee may strangle it, unless they are very carefully chosen as people who can work together.

Countdown to lawsuit (4, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#41494501)

How long until the textbook industry sues California for unfair competition?

Re:Countdown to lawsuit (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#41495433)

How long until the textbook industry sues California for unfair competition?

I don't know - what time is it now?

Funding not included, (Legislative) Assembly Rqd. (1)

milbournosphere (1273186) | about 2 years ago | (#41494503)

Sections 1 and 2 of this act shall become operative only if funding for the purposes of this act is provided in an appropriation in the annual Budget Act or another statute, or through federal or private funds, or through a combination of state, federal, and private funds.

Well, I had my hopes up for a second, anyway.

Dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494523)

if I cant afford a $20 textbook, how can I afford a $60 internet bill for the e-books? Another Brown thought process.

Re:Dumb (1)

Cinder6 (894572) | about 2 years ago | (#41494609)

Don't all colleges now include wifi access in the tuition price?

Re:Dumb (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#41494617)

Glad you admit you're dumb. You have internet access at school. And you don't even need it - the teacher will surely have it available for direct download, to ensure that the students all get the book and the right one.

That is, if this would ever take off. It won't, because the Texan Book Mafia will never allow this to happen.

Re:Dumb (1)

Zephyn (415698) | about 2 years ago | (#41494667)

Thought process #1: The cost of the average college textbook is closer to $200 than it is to $20.

Thought process #2: Lots of places these days offer this new-fangled thing called "Free Wifi". Ask your local Starbucks or McDonalds about it.

Re:Dumb (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41494865)

That, and the going rate for a 4GB flash drive(from somebody you've heard of, even, is about $6, less if you catch a sale). If you don't want the convenience of rewriteable media, an optical disk costs maybe a nickel or two.

Re:Dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494669)

This is the typical, one-step-ahead type of thinking demonstrated by Brown and his ilk.

Textbooks are expensive? Legislate that there shall be free books! Never mind the consequences of such an action, such as the impact on the quality of the resulting textbooks or how reduced sales will likely cause the existing textbook publishers to raise prices on their other prints.

These idiots are acting out the Springfield pigeon problem fix, except there will be no convenient cold snap that will cause the gorillas to freeze to death.

Re:Dumb (1)

RackinFrackin (152232) | about 2 years ago | (#41494837)

Download it while you're at the university.

Re:Dumb (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41494843)

if I cant afford a $20 textbook, how can I afford a $60 internet bill for the e-books? Another Brown thought process.

I've heard tales, from the very oldest days, of people transferring bits between computers on various forms of 'removable media'. Apparently, this curious custom does not require internet access!

What open source textbooks mean (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41494953)

if I cant afford a $20 textbook, how can I afford a $60 internet bill for the e-books?

Nothing requires the textbooks to be provided to students exclusively electronically or, even when electronically, exclusively over the internet. And core textbooks are rarely $20 -- more like $60+.

Open source licensing means that the institutions (individually or together) can customize the books, and provide them free electronically and, if they want, have them printed and sell them to students at a cost that covers the cost of printing without any publisher markup.

Free? (1)

J'raxis (248192) | about 2 years ago | (#41494537)

If these are "free textbooks," why does the legislature have to fund it?

How about we be honest, eh? No one is providing "free" textbooks. No one is volunteering to create these things and give them away. The taxpayers will be forced to pay for these books rather than their actual users.

Re:Free? (1)

jmerlin (1010641) | about 2 years ago | (#41495007)

This. I'm tired of the government subsidizing something and calling it "reform" or "free." The problem with textbooks isn't the price we have to pay, it's the price PERIOD. Shifting the burden on to taxpayers instead of individuals actually changes nothing. Real reform says to textbook manufacturers:
  • You cannot re-release the same book as a "separate edition" just because you changed the questions at the end of each section or fixed a typo.
  • You cannot bundle a textbook with online courseware that is not re-usable.
  • You cannot sell a textbook used by an educational institution for more than double the price of the projected amortized cost of that book with an expected initial sale rate of 50,000 texts. Also, every penny of the cost to create that text must be completely publicly disclosed.
  • You cannot offer "deals" such as providing coursework to professors and teachers in order to bribe them into using your texts. If your text sucks, it won't be used, make better texts, fucking idiots.

Something along those lines, and breaking any of those rules results in a $5,000 fine per individual textbook violating the above rules. That would effectively stop this price-gouging nonsense and we wouldn't need subsidies to provide "free texts" to students. They'd be able to afford a $30 book, especially if they could just buy one used by a student who took the same class last semester, and with knowledge that they could just sell that text to a student in the next class.

We also need reform of scientific articles/publications that students might find useful for research so that Universities aren't forced to pay exorbitant fees to provide their students with access to research that was funded by tax money in the first place. Elsevier, and others like them, should be forced to follow a similar guideline, or just outright banned for their incredibly stupid and unfair practices.

Further, government subsidized health insurance doesn't solve the problem. Now you're just funneling money from tax payers into insurance companies who continue to charge outlandish premiums justified by the outlandish (and unjustified) costs of just about every medical procedure, device, and/or drug. This country hasn't seen a real reform of anything since the 60s.

Re:Free? (1)

skelly33 (891182) | about 2 years ago | (#41495197)

Shifting the burden on to taxpayers instead of individuals actually changes nothing.

Actually, I would submit that shifting the burden does change something in this case. I don't know about the state of affairs in other states, but the California community college school system is over-booked for enrollment, and severely under capitalized from state funding. If the College were to shift to free books for the students, the school would lose out on the revenue stream that comes from all those students marching into the campus book store to pick up their copy, further compounding the funding problem for the schools.

The one possible advantage I foresee here is that the books are NOT free to students, but are instead free to the schools. The schools can (and should) customize their digital copies of the materials to suit their needs. They then sell (low cost) digital copies to pick up their normal margin without the typical overhead, or hard copies either printed and bound on site (moderate cost) or farmed out to a professional (high cost) on low volume print runs. One interesting form factor I have seen is a 3-ring binder version of my Calculus book - students can carry the book a chapter at a time in their binder right along with their notes and not have to carry that 15 lb, 1200 page unabridged version with them all the time. The question is: would the schools be prepared to get into doing all that for themselves?

Re:Free? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41495283)

If the College were to shift to free books for the students, the school would lose out on the revenue stream that comes from all those students marching into the campus book store to pick up their copy, further compounding the funding problem for the schools.

From what I've heard, that "revenue stream" generally goes to (1) pay publishers for the books, and (2) pay the operating costs of the book store, and doesn't actually return much of anything to the school.

Re:Free? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41495253)

I'm tired of the government subsidizing something and calling it "reform" or "free."

It is the media (e.g., the L.A. Times in TFA) calling it "free". The government, in the actual law, calls it "open source", which, given the specific license requirements in the law, is entirely accurate.

The problem with textbooks isn't the price we have to pay, it's the price PERIOD.

If you are interested in textbook reform other than the move to acquire some open source textbooks (California SB 1052 and SB 1053 of this past session), you should probably look at the other textbook reform measures that California has recently passed (e.g., SB 1539, Chapter 151, Statutes of 2012), or has under consideration (e.g., SB 1328.) Just because this measure is the subject of a Slashdot posting doesn't mean its the only thing that has been done on the issue.

Then I suggest you look at other

Open Source (2)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41495067)

If these are "free textbooks," why does the legislature have to fund it?

As one might expect Slashdot users to know (well, maybe not) "free" is often used to refer to certain liberal licensing terms ("libre") rather than free-of-charge ("gratis").

Although -- no doubt much to Richard Stallman's chagrin -- the law itself actually uses the term "open source" rather than "free".
 

Re:Free? (1)

fermion (181285) | about 2 years ago | (#41495247)

I know that many of /. readers have never really tried to create highly quality production level content, but it is really hard to do. College textbooks are really hard to produce because they must be highly rigorous but realize the student does not yet have the vocabulary or context.

Look around for introductory physics textbooks, for instance. I have seen some that are pretty good, but were made simply to say that a free textbook was available. There were none of the niceties one expects in a textbook made by a professional. No pride. but there a couple out there that are very good, and the existence of such books make me wonder why anyone would write another from scratch instead of using the creative commons to improve an existing book.

The funding, of course, is because people are going to be paid to write the books. After they are written, hopefully they will be under some copyleft licensee to insure they remain free to use. I imagine the cost can be minimized by using the massive number of professors to write the books. Perhaps they can be counted against publications for tenure, of fulfillment of post doc work. A single author writes each chapter, another develops the problem sets or essay questions.

What would be a shame is if these books were traditional books, and not integrated with other content. One of the most disappointing things about Khan is that it is just a hand on a board. No teaching just copying.

They could start with Wikibooks (3, Interesting)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | about 2 years ago | (#41494541)

They could use the books already on Wikibooks ( http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikibooks.org] ) as a starting point.

I wonder if the open-source books they will produce will break away from the paper textbook paradigm (linear text+static images)? The one I am writing ( http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Space_Transport_and_Engineering_Methods [wikibooks.org] ) is heavily hyperlinked, I've included a spreadsheet and expect to include other media, am working on a resource library ( http://www.mediafire.com/?y1ko8gj5rouob [mediafire.com] ), and the concept of "class projects" (design studies) which become part of the book.

Re:They could start with Wikibooks (1)

BlueCoder (223005) | about 2 years ago | (#41495405)

Hyperlinks break. Better to just create a supplementary "book" with recent material and trends and listings for further reading. That way readers aren't frustrated clicking on broken links in the main textbook after the book is a couple years old.

Declare it free, and it becomes so? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494569)

I believe the cost of college textbooks is outrageous, but this is ridiculous.

A politician waves his wand (or in this case, his pen) and declares that a particular product shall be created that not only is adequate to do the job but free as well... and it is supposed to magically happen?

Law is about "open source" content (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41495325)

A politician waves his wand (or in this case, his pen) and declares that a particular product shall be created that not only is adequate to do the job but free as well... and it is supposed to magically happen?

While the LA Times uses the word "free", the actual law in question uses the term "open source".

Of course, once the State acquires open source textbooks, its pretty easy to also make copies available free-of-charge.

Never understood this business (3, Insightful)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about 2 years ago | (#41494587)

I have never understood this business. Not much has changed in say basic trig or geometry in 100 years. In that time basic subject textbooks should have been whittled down to two or three that are simply the best. But somehow there is different textbooks in nearly every school system in North America; yet a school system in SoCal should be able to use the same textbook as in Maine. The textbook companies have somehow convinced every schoolboard that they should tailor the books to match their exact curriculum. This gives the schoolboards a warm and fuzzy feeling while they set up approval commities, training sessions, etc for the new books. Yet these books add up to a huge percentage of the budget.

My two daughters have nearly useless textbooks year after year which their teachers just don't use. They will have questions like: "Write down all the ways 10 numbered marbles can be put into 5 lettered bags." Holy crap do these people even have a basic understanding of math.

It is not just ebooks that can replace these dinosaurs but cool online videos.

Bye bye massively commissioned textbook sales people.

Re:Never understood this business (0)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#41494665)

My two daughters have nearly useless textbooks year after year which their teachers just don't use. They will have questions like: "Write down all the ways 10 numbered marbles can be put into 5 lettered bags."

Are your daughters still writing the answer to that one? How far have they come so far?

Re:Never understood this business (1)

jmerlin (1010641) | about 2 years ago | (#41495055)

There are only 30,240 different ways. So I would guess that only took a few weeks. Not much to learn from it, though. I would've done it just to see if the teacher would've graded it.

Re:Never understood this business (1)

skelly33 (891182) | about 2 years ago | (#41495277)

Search the web for the Texas School Board vs. school text books. I saw a documentary on this last year that was pretty enlightening (and alarming). At the end of the day, it's an economic play that determines what books end up getting selected, but during the course of the day, it's the folks in Texas who have a the most prominent voice over the content of the books, nation-wide.

More fantasy Land Wet Dreams... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494595)

from the national socialist (aka democrat) party - arnold was a member too just like most republicans...

Nothing is free (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 2 years ago | (#41494603)

Its still being paid for by tax dollars, but at least there is no additional fee to the parents, unless of course you have nothing to view them on.. so 'free' e-ink for all..

Why not elementary school textbooks? (2)

glassware (195317) | about 2 years ago | (#41494631)

Frankly, elementary school lessons don't change that much from one year to the next. The current textbooks my child uses are incredibly simple, and they contain pretty timeless lessons. If someone was to take a textbook from 50 or 70 years ago that was out of copyright, they could easily make it available to all schools to use, or they could copy relevant sections from many books to make a single "First Grade Math Book" or "Second Grade English Book".

Doing so would eliminate a HUGE amount of the cost of school. When you see how much a school spends on textbooks, you'll be bowled over. The latest textbooks I've seen have basically one sentence of text per page, accompanied with huge, two page spread art pictures - totally worthless and a waste of space. Even "See Spot Run" had more than one sentence per page.

Stop our schools from spending money on stuff that doesn't matter. The textbooks aren't going to make our kids smart. Time with a teacher will.

Re:Why not elementary school textbooks? (1, Interesting)

bcrowell (177657) | about 2 years ago | (#41494747)

Former Gov. Schwarzenegger tried to do exactly this, with his Free Digital Textbook Initiative. As far as I can tell, it had zero impact.

Re:Why not elementary school textbooks? (2)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41495547)

Former Gov. Schwarzenegger tried to do exactly this, with his Free Digital Textbook Initiative. As far as I can tell, it had zero impact.

Well, zero impact on elementary school textbooks, maybe, but since that initiative is limited to High School textbooks, that's perhaps unsurprising. So, not exactly the same thing GP was calling for, after all.

Re:Why not elementary school textbooks? (2)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#41494849)

Frankly, elementary school lessons don't change that much from one year to the next. The current textbooks my child uses are incredibly simple, and they contain pretty timeless lessons. If someone was to take a textbook from 50 or 70 years ago that was out of copyright, they could easily make it available to all schools to use

Somehow I think that a textbook from 50-70 years ago would be way too advanced [sensible-m...cation.com] for today's kids.

Here [dailymail.co.uk] are some test questions that 11-12 year old British kids would need to pass in the fifties to go to grammar school.
Hands up, anyone who thinks that kids born in 2001 would pass this test. Ever.

Re:Why not elementary school textbooks? (1)

skelly33 (891182) | about 2 years ago | (#41495383)

Thanks for that link to sensible-math-education - after a quick scan, it looks like an interesting read!

Re:Why not elementary school textbooks? (1)

skelly33 (891182) | about 2 years ago | (#41495331)

If someone was to take a textbook from 50 or 70 years ago that was out of copyright...

You mean like the ones that taught us how women are supposed to be serving in the kitchen, that children should never speak, especially when Father is present, and that Father should not tolerate any insolence from either? Cultural/societal values present themselves in the darnedest places.

It may seem that simple on the surface, but in fact it is not. The language and message carried in books needs to be updated to reflect our current understanding of the world, and current cultural values and norms. Not every year, but every 5? 7? That's pretty normal for public school books to be replaced on 5 to 7 year intervals...

Wife had a teacher who wrote his own (2)

bobjr94 (1120555) | about 2 years ago | (#41494663)

When my wife was taking math classes a few years ago, one of her professors had written his own text book and gave it away for free as a pdf to anyone, including other schools and teachers, who wanted it. He thought it was such a waste for the students to be forced to buy a $120 book they use once and then get $18 back for it, then see it resold for $86.

XML format? (1)

Cinder6 (894572) | about 2 years ago | (#41494691)

I'm not super well-versed in my eBook formats, but I was under the impression that the common formats, such as ePub and MOBI/AZW, use combinations of XML (such as ePub's manifest files) and HTML. From the summary, it sounds as if this is yet another eBook format we'll have to contend with, which won't be supported by the popular eReaders out there.

When I say I want an eBook, I mean I want to be able to read it on my Kindle or Nook. E-Ink, not LCD. It seems to me that the best option would be to follow the Project Gutenberg model and provide pure HTML, ePub, MOBI, and other common formats. Yes, since it's "open source" we will probably be able to convert the books, but how many people are going to know how to do that?

Highlander Thesis (2)

dcollins (135727) | about 2 years ago | (#41494847)

"Yes, since it's 'open source' we will probably be able to convert the books, but how many people are going to know how to do that?"

There need be only one!

Re:XML format? (2)

GeLeTo (527660) | about 2 years ago | (#41494901)

They most probably mean DocBook XML. In the XML you only express data - chapters, articles, paragraphs, titles, images... No formatting. And then using the same XML you can generate HTML, PDF, ePub, MOBI, htmlhelp, etc...

Re:XML format? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41495521)

They most probably mean DocBook XML.

I've posted the actual format require from the law in a separate response to GP, but "DocBook XML" isn't what it calls for.

Re:XML format? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494919)

If the math books are not written in some variant of TeX, something is majorly wrong.

Re:XML format? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#41495503)

I'm not super well-versed in my eBook formats, but I was under the impression that the common formats, such as ePub and MOBI/AZW, use combinations of XML (such as ePub's manifest files) and HTML.

Doesn't ePub uses a combination of XML and XML, requiring the "HTML" part to be XHTML.

From the summary, it sounds as if this is yet another eBook format we'll have to contend with, which won't be supported by the popular eReaders out there.

Why would you trust a Slashdot summary of a short LA Times article to provide much information about the content of a law?

What the law actually requires regarding format is that the open-source materials acquired under its authority:

are modular in order to allow easy customization, and are encoded in an Extensible Markup Language (XML) format, or other appropriate successor format, and are designed and delivered to achieve interoperability enabling the materials to be made available reliably and successfully on the widest possible range of platforms, such as the Internet, tablets, smartphones, print, or other platforms.

Fuck Jerry Brown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494989)

EOM

What about the content? (2)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about 2 years ago | (#41494997)

Have you seen the fnords?

California needs to get itself under control (2, Interesting)

enigma32 (128601) | about 2 years ago | (#41495063)

This is ridiculous.
I moved to California a year ago to be with my wife will she attends grad school and I have been appalled at the insanity that regularly occurs in this state as compared to anywhere the East coast.

1) Freely available educational material is fantastic.
2) Having the government pay for freely available educational material that will not necessarily be used by the college courses they are intended for is bad.
3) Forcing professors to use the state-sponsored books would be even worse. The Government can't get anything right, so I certainly wouldn't want some bureaucrat deciding what books were going to be used in a course I was taking.
4) This state doesn't need to spend any more money on anything. Period. They need to get their spending under control before trying to enhance things. 10%+ sales tax? Very bad! And I can hardly wait to see my income taxes for the past year.

Summary:
This is a terrible idea. The CA state government needs to start thinking about NOT defaulting rather than blowing money on ridiculous schemes with no payoff.
There are already some freely available texts anyway, from programs pioneered by top universities. Why not incentivize things like that rather than trying to take more under the government umbrella?

Re:California needs to get itself under control (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41495393)

I moved to California a year ago to be with my wife will she attends grad school and I have been appalled at the insanity that regularly occurs in this state as compared to anywhere the East coast.

Probably because most of those east coast states have anywhere from half (think New York) to 1/75 (Vermont) the population of California. It is much easier to achieve consensus and compromise with less people. What you end up with are a lot of great intentions that are picked apart until they either fail or become a shell of the actual intent. That being said, California still leads the nation on many issues and is probably best considered a testing ground of potential national ideas.

2) Having the government pay for freely available educational material that will not necessarily be used by the college courses they are intended for is bad.

No it is not. Open access to material is always a good thing. If you don't like the way the Universities choose material for classes, then lobby the Universities directly or start your own University using the Open material.

This state doesn't need to spend any more money on anything. Period. They need to get their spending under control before trying to enhance things. 10%+ sales tax? Very bad! And I can hardly wait to see my income taxes for the past year.

We need to stop footing the bill for all the crappy southern states and instead demand a better return on the federal taxes paid by our residents.

You gotta luv the can-do attitude (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41495131)

on slash/dot.

not.

This is long overdue and if the legislature is serious about reducing the cost of a college education, this is a necessary step.

It's certainly not the only one.

There is nothing more expensive than free stuff (0)

udachny (2454394) | about 2 years ago | (#41495243)

And as always, there is nothing more expensive than something that government supposedly gives you "for free".

Next: Textbook Payola (2)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | about 2 years ago | (#41495279)

So what's a poor textbook company supposed to do now? Oh, I know, pay teachers to choose my textbooks and ignore the free ones!

Speaking as a Professor... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41495321)

I teach engineering at a local college, and let me say that it pisses me to no end that the publishers churn editions so quickly. Engineering thermodynamics hasn't changed much in 100 years, but they have released 3 editions of the same text in as many years.

The changes? The number order of the end of chapter problems is shuffled. Everything else is letter-for-letter identical.

The fallout of all this is that significant numbers of my students actually attempt to take my engineering thermodynamics and fluid mechanics courses without a book. Never mind that, at a minimum, they need steam and property tables in the text for the exams (I let them bring photocopies of property tables for exams, but I have to check them as some kids have used these to hide crib sheets). They don't do the homework because they won't buy the book. They are winging it because the damned books are $250 and they can only hope to sell them back for 20% of what they paid for them, just so the bookstore can sell them for $200 used.

I've worked to allow my students to use ANY edition of the assigned text, so they can rummage around online for cheap used editions, or buy from recent course graduates. I provide different assignment sheets depending on edition so everyone does the same problems (even though the problems have different numbers in different editions). I've toyed with letting them use any thermodynamics or fluid mechanics texts (any author, any edition) and then assigning my own common homework problems, but there is enough variability in the texts where this causes problems.

I've played with the idea of writing my own textbook, but the problem is delivery. If I could write a text that I could issue as a PDF or a paper copy, charging just to cover the printing costs, that would be wonderful. This is done in some specialized state licensing courses that we teach where there isn't really a standard textbook available. But I am sure the publishers of the commercial texts would have lawyers on me like stink on a skunk if I tried this, probably with a charge of plagiarism (as most textbooks use the same terminology and symbols and are essentially the same damned books with minor tweaks). Accreditation agencies are in on the act as well, as you need to teach out of an "accepted" text. Anybody want to quote odds on my photocopied text becoming accepted?

A standardized text would be great, but I don't think the publishers will go for it and they will fight it tooth & nail as it obviously would bite their bottom line.

California is what you get when stupid people vote (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41495395)

Jerry Brown was governor in the seventies and was the one who let all the state workers unionize

The state workers' unions funnel all their political money into the democrats, who have (not surprisingly) dominated the legislature ever since this new special interest cash pipeline was opened-up. In exchange, when the democrats sit down at the negotiating table with the unions they feel free to hand over generous piles of taxpayer money and promises of extremely generous pensions to be payed for buy future taxpayers... the people missing from the table are the taxpayers (and the future taxpayers being saddled with the pension promises). The cash moves in a circle from democrat legislature to union member to union, to democrat legislature with a continual infusion of more cash from the taxpayers.

In the last governor's race, with the economy and state finances as major issues, Jerry Brown emerged from his pyramid, removed his mummy bandages and ran as the guy who would focus on the state's economic woes. He attacked his opponent as in-the-bag with the police unions and announced that he was the one who would get control. People who remembered their history knew this was a scam, but dumb people bought it and voted for him. After "moonbeam" got back into the governor's office, all that talk of reform and getting control of the union costs evaporated and now he's back to his old tricks (of course) like driving the state further into bankruptcy while hoping for voter approval of new tax hikes and using massive piles of stupid little bills like this one, each aimed to make some micro-constituency happy. This bill, like most that Jerry and the legislature are pushing, will provide no measurable benefit to anybody... but for some narrow little slice of Jerry's constituents it is the equivalent of "SQUIRREL!"

Future Slashdot Story (2)

NoKaOi (1415755) | about 2 years ago | (#41495523)

Free open source California textbooks unavailable for download due to bogus DMCA takedown notices from Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan.

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